Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport.
No one has ever disagreed to the fact. In a sport, which boasts of three formats, the oldest one has always been considered the most special and difficult, reserving a place for itself on a pedestal.
But if Test cricket was a kid in a school, he or she would always come last in the race of popularity.
The need to popularise the sport and maximise the profit forced the organisers, authorities to cut down the length of it. Much like a censor board official, authorities scissored few overs and bang we got 50-over cricket. Later, 20-over cricket came to the scene and in many ways has become the undisputed king of the sport.
Despite various innovations, tweaks to the game, Test cricket never lost the tag of it being the pinnacle — after all nothing challenges the skill, fitness, psychology and mental toughness of a player like Test cricket. But what it lost with time was the eyeballs. Apart from the dwindling stadium numbers, the TV viewership also took a hit over the years.
The international cricket body, ICC, has certainly tried out new things in the recent times to provide the much-needed push to the format. The initiation of pink ball day-night Tests has been a step in the same direction. There are also deliberations going on over reducing it to a four-day affair.
The format has indeed witnessed a revival of sorts in 2018 which interestingly had very little to do with the aforementioned changes.
What has worked in the favour of Test cricket is the rise of competitiveness and reduction in the number of drab draws.
The number of draws in international cricket has come down drastically in recent past, while nine international matches ended as a draw in 2014 and 2015, only seven finished without a result in the next two years.
In 2018, only five matches finished were drawn with a resurgence of visiting sides. Lopsided Test matches and home bullying was for once replaced with intensely fought matches and rare series wins for visiting sides.
While England registered a series sweep in Sri Lanka, New Zealand notched up a memorable Test series win over Pakistan in UAE. The icing on the cake was India's maiden Test series win Down Under in Australia.
The man leading this resurgence from the front is India's skipper Virat Kohli. The Indian captain has made no bones about how much he loves Test cricket.
Kohli's importance to the format has often been underlined by former cricketers including ex-England captain David Gower and veteran Greg Chappell who have often spoken about how Kohli's passion for Test cricket would help boost the format.
And if Kohli's recent comments on Test cricket are anything to go by, better days are in the store for five-day cricket.
"I wouldn't say goal but I would rather speak of a vision, which is for India to be a superpower in Test cricket or a very, very strong side in Test cricket in the years to come," Kohli said in an interview. "I think if Indian cricket respects Test cricket, and Indian players respect Test cricket, then Test cricket will stay at the top because of the fan base that we have all over the world."
Kohli also shared what is required for becoming a quality Test cricketer and said his team is looking to set an example for the younger generation.
"As long as you're willing to wake up every morning for five days and do the hard yards and go do the dirty work - if you're willing to bat for two hours and not score a run for the team - I think that is what people should prepare (youngsters) (for)."
"That (vision) will require the team to lay out certain things that need to be done and for the next lot to keep following. So (when) the next lot that comes in, they have to maintain that vision and then the people coming in will follow," he said.
What also is an indicator of the healthy status of Test cricket is how Cheteshwar Pujara dominated the narrative around the sport after his match-winning performance. A batsman belonging to the old school of batting, Pujara has been earlier egged on by the team management to improve his run-scoring rate. But such was the magnitude of his performance that even the pessimist wrote hosannas.
In a series, where he grabbed the player of the tournament award, Pujara batted for over 28 hours and face over 1200 balls apart from making more than 500 runs.
The effusive praise that he received from experts, former players and media would also encourage youngsters to strive to step into his shoes. He has already started making an impact and started inspiring the youngsters. India's U-19 and upcoming star Shubman Gill spoke about how Pujara has been setting the benchmark for the youngsters.
"There are very few batsmen who can bat through the day and look to play out the balls. He (Pujara) played over 1200 balls in one tour, which is really phenomenal. To score 500 runs in a tour looks possible. But to face so many deliveries is setting a benchmark for the youngsters," the Punjab batsman said.
"There is a lot to learn seeing the way Cheteshwar Pujara bats, his patience at the crease. Australia had the world's top bowlers and to score against them on those tough pitches is phenomenal. I love watching him bat. Nowadays the batsmen look to score quick runs," he added.
Even former England batsman Kevin Pietersen was in awe of Pujara and had an advice or two for the youngsters.
The RESPECT you get as a cricketer for what @cheteshwar1 is doing in TEST CRICKET, is GREATER than any wonderfully skilful T20 innings.
Youngsters - look, learn & listen!
— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) January 3, 2019
It's a no secret that India command the finances in the sport and bring more people to the game than any other nation. At the same time, there's no argument that Kohli is the undisputed king of the sport. Their support and positive attitude towards the format along with motivation would not only help Test cricket stay afloat but would also help in achieving a secure future for it.
After all, Test cricket is not just a format in cricket, it's the soul of it, without it the game would only get poorer.
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